christmas box

Four gift ideas that will make a difference


We all have people on our Christmas list who are impossible to buy for. Clothes? There are size and taste issues. Wine? Yes, OK, always useful (unless you’re buying for a child) but not exactly inspired. And guessing what a teenager wants is a mug’s game. My thirteen year old blithely told a friend of mine that if I like something, it pretty much means she’ll dislike it, though not always but most of the time (I’m quoting here).

What to do? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately as I attempt to be a bit more creative in my gift-giving. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Investments – the gift that keeps on giving

In an article that appeared in The Star on women and investing, Ellen Roseman, a journalist and investing instructor at the University of Toronto’s school of continuing studies, suggests that women need to take on more risk in their investments. In particular, she notes the importance of owning stocks. While many women shy away from investing in the stock market, Ellen was introduced to it very early in life through her family. Her grandparents loved Bell shares and gave her one every birthday as a gift. Over the years, the shares have grown in value, which means that Ellen is benefiting from much more than the original price of the shares. How’s that for a clever gift – an appreciating asset!

Those of you who have heard me speak on the subject of investing know that I am not a fan of stock-picking as an approach for building an investment portfolio. There is broad consensus from a variety of credible, financial writers on the problems with stock-picking and, conversely, on the wisdom of investing in index funds. For an in-depth look at this topic, read Daniel Solin’s book The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read or Tony Robbins’ book Money, Master the Game.

That said, if Grandma and Grandpa want to buy the kids some shares in blue chip companies, then two thumbs up for them.

If you’re wondering what to get your children or even an adult, consider an index fund and top it up every year. The great thing is that you can select pretty much any amount to suit your budget and then have fun tracking it with the recipients on an annual basis. They will thank you in the long run.

2. Experiences, not things

Two years ago I wrote a blog post about how to get through Christmas financially intact. I had just read a fascinating book by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, in which they look at ways to get more satisfaction from your money. Buying stuff seems like it will make us happy, but the buzz doesn’t last long. One of Dunn’s and Norton’s recommendations was to buy experiences, not more things.

I was reminded of this suggestion earlier this week when my daughters and I talked about what to get Grandma and Grandpa. “They have everything. They don’t need more stuff. Why don’t we do something with them that they would enjoy?” suggested my oldest. After a few minutes of brainstorming, she came up with an idea. She had just attended a birthday party at the Chateau Laurier, a lovely, historic hotel in downtown Ottawa. The party revolved around attending High Tea, an upscale version of an old, British tradition. My daughter loved it, commenting at the time that it was just the sort of thing that Grandma would love.

Ever since the girls were old enough to drink herbal tea, Grandma has had tea parties with them at her house. They dress up in fancy hats, sit at a make-shift table, and have tea and cakes together. My daughter suggested, “Why don’t we take Grandma and Grandpa to High Tea at the Chateau Laurier? She won’t go because it’s expensive, but it would be a nice treat for Hannukah.” Perfect! This will create a wonderful experience for our girls to add to their memory box of special time spent with Grandma and Grandpa. And it’s just the sort of thing that their grandparents would enjoy.

Mark and I use this approach for our own gifts as well. There have been horseback riding outings, overnights away, and other gifts revolving around experiences. If you have friends whom you’d love to treat at Christmas, consider giving them a room escape gift. If you haven’t tried it yet, do! It’s a blast, assuming that you enjoy solving puzzles. Once the escape is done, go out for drinks or dinner to talk about how you solved the puzzles or, as has often been our experience, why you didn’t make it out in time. It will be a memorable outing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just Google “room escape” for your city. They’re all over North America at the moment.

3. The gift of learning

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop for business women. During one of the breaks, a colleague told me that the organizer had given a free ticket to a woman who has just gone through a personal tragedy and needs to grow her income in a hurry. She doesn’t have the means to attend events that might be beneficial to her, so the organizer reached out to offer a helping hand. How great is that?! That got me thinking about giving learning events as gifts to people who could use a leg up or for those who are looking to change their current situation. There are all sorts of workshops and classes that could prove transformative for the right person. It doesn’t even need to be about professional pursuits; how about cooking classes, skiing lessons and the like? Consider the recipient’s interests and needs, and look for classes they might enjoy.

4. Confidence

Last weekend my daughter A. participated in a basketball tournament. When she learned that one player from each team would be given an MVP t-shirt at every game, she turned and said to me, “I want to win one of those t-shirts.” Here’s the exchange that followed:

ME: That’s terrific! What do you have to do in order to win one of those?

A: Be the MVP for the game.

ME: Very funny. I meant specifically, what actions do you need to take?

A: I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that I need to play with confidence, that I need to be more assertive. You always say that.

ME: You’re right. You have great skills, but you often let a lack of confidence get in the way of performing to the best of your abilities. What would happen if you went into a game will full confidence? What if you felt certain that you can drive to the hoop successfully through defenders, or defend like a tiger or get open no matter what? What would be the result?

A: I’d play well and I might win the t-shirt.

This went on for a bit, and by the end my daughter had agreed to amp up her confidence for the first game. It didn’t work. One moment she was fully confident, the next she was all hesitation and uncertainty. chris-paulin-tournamentAfterwards she was dejected. “I failed completely,” she said. I insisted she had done nothing of the kind, and pointed to the moments where she had played with full confidence. I suggested that she focus on those for the second game. She did that – and played superbly. She was always open, hit a personal best for points scored and put in a great performance on defense. The result? She was awarded the MVP t-shirt for our team at that game.

A lack of confidence is at the root of so many challenges for women and girls. It shows up in every aspect of our lives: the way we perform, invest, earn and grow. If I could ask Santa to give a single gift to all women, it would be the gift of confidence.

Here’s a suggestion on a place to start: the book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. This is as close to a blueprint on how to grow your confidence as I can find. This year, I’m buying this book for A. in the hope of fostering more fully confident moments in her life. Once girls master this skill, the sky is the limit.

Besides, a girl can never have too many good books.

Until next time, Survive, Thrive and Grow.

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6 Responses

  1. I enjoyed this blog post as always Doris! Thanks for keeping us “outside the box” in this consumer driven world. I loved all your suggestions. I think we often forget that giving gifts does not always mean they have to be wrapped in a box. One of my favourite Christmases was the year we gave an experience to our niece and nephew. It will always be a great memory for me, and I can only hope for them too! Keep ’em coming, your gift to us is your passion and your willingness to share! Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comments! I totally agree that experiences are a great way to go with nieces and nephews. They also work for great friends who visit at Christmas, too. 🙂 I had you in mind when I suggested the room escape. Can’t wait for our next adventure.

  2. This year, I’m giving my nephew two books packed full of activities/experiences he can enjoy with his parents (they recently moved up north so great opportunity!):

    The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley

    and (found in an antique mall and would prefer “kids” to “boys” but anyway):

    The Dangerous Book for Boys by Donn and Hal Iggulden

    (Activities include things like how to build a battery)

    Highly endorse the value of experiences over things!!! Great suggestions here.

  3. Great gift ideas for Christmas. Doris Belland I’d like a few shares of Google – you know – back in the day.

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